Monday, August 31, 2009

Riprap Hollow on a Beautiful Summer Day

Maybe it was the invigorating dip in the deep pool that convinced me. Perhaps it was the timber rattler that I nearly stepped on because I was more fascinated with my brand new GPS than where I put my feet. Or it could’ve been the steep hike back out up Wildcat Ridge, quads definitely taking notice. Or was it the black bears I’ve seen there on several trips, or the water snake catching a trout last year? For all of these reasons, the 9.6 mile circuit hike from the Wildcat Ridge Parking Lot in Shenandoah National Park down into Riprap Hollow is one of my favorite all time hikes.

I have a sentimental reason for loving this hike. In July of 2003, it was my first real hike after surviving lymphoma and being pretty sick for a good long while. Seven months after finishing chemo, and still not up to full strength, it was the hike I choose to make a statement that I could do this again. And every summer since, I always go on this hike.

And so yesterday, for my August challenge, I choose to return to this hike after an absence of more than a year. It was a beautiful summer day up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park, and I was on the trail by 8:45. I didn’t see any bears on this hike, and haven’t seen any for several years here. I did see four wild turkeys and three deer right along the side of the Skyline Drive on the way up. And on the hike itself, I saw two small toads, a little water snake that swam between my feet, three red tailed hawks soaring above, and all kinds of mushrooms. The forest was fairly quiet but I did hear oven birds, eastern wood peewees, and two pileated woodpeckers.

One loses and gains about 2,200 feet of elevation on the circuit, and it goes through rugged terrain. You will know that you have lungs and quads, especially on the hike back up out of the hollow from about 1,800 to 3,000 feet. Referring to the map, the trip began and ended at the red circle, and went counter-clockwise along the Appalachian Trail to the Riprap Hollow Trail, and finally back up the Wildcat Ridge Trail. The green arrow is the location of the pool along the stream down in the hollow.
Later in the week, I may write more about the hike, but for now, will just post pictures. I also wrote yesterday here, a bit tongue in cheek, about doing a triathlon on this hike.

View down into Riprap Hollow's rugged terrain from an overlook on the Skyline Drive

Junction near start (and end) of hike of Appalachian Trail and Wildcat Ridge Trail (coming in on the left). You can go either way but I started out by heading down the AT.

White blazed mark the AT from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

The wood sprite on my hiking staff takes a break while proudly displaying his Shenandoah National Park medal. My good friend Tom, who accompanied me on my Tumbledown Mountain "Kicking Cancer's Butt" hike six years ago, made the hiking stick for me.

View from Cavalry Rocks along the Riprap Hollow Trail

View to the mountains north of the Riprap Hollow Trail

Glad I don't have to tear logs apart for my lunch like this bear did

The Riprap Hollow Trail bottoms out along a stream sandwiched between very steep slopes to the east and west. It is a beautiful and tranquil valley.

I can never resist jumping into this deep pool, no matter how shocking the water initially feels on my hot skin.

A few spots on the steep hike out up the Wildcat Ridge Trail have nice views to the south, but mostly you are in deep woods.

Finally! A definitive answer to the question that has confounded mankind for milennia: does a wild bear leave his scat in the woods?

A rare and welcome level spot along the Wildcat Ridge Trail

I saw many cool mushrooms on my hike. I can't identify them, but the variety and colors are the most I've seen since my Bald Mountain hike just over a year ago up in New Hampshire.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sailor's Creek Battlefield

I hesitated putting this out here, because it wasn't really a hike. There was a short walk involved, and because it is an interesting historical event that not a lot of people know about, I decided to put a few photos out for people to look at. I took these on Sunday, 8/23 but didn't post it for a week.

In the next day or two (from 8/30), I will write a post on today's hike to Riprap Hollow.
On April 3 of 1865, Lee's decimated army left Petersburg, VA after being besieged for nearly 10 months, and tried to get to Danville, VA. Grant's army pursued Lee vigorously, and 3 days later, Union cavalry caught up with the rearward part of the Army of Northern Virginia. At Sailor's Creek, east of Farmville, the United States scored a major victory, capturing one fifth of Lee's remaining starving troops. Three days later, Lee agreed to terms at Appomattox Court House and surrendered the rest of his Army, ending the Civil War in Virginia.
The battlefield is now a state park, and has some pretty views.
The Hillsman House was used as a Union hospital. Blood stains are still visible in the wood floors, and the family never returned to the house after the battle. Inside, it is made up to look like a field hospital of the time.
These views of the battlefield are from the Hillsman house farm grounds. The Union defended this position, and the Confederate troops were down in the wooded area:
Monument to the two armies

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield

It was a busy weekend, beginning with being a model in the Cure by Design fashion show (a first for normally very unstylish moi) for the American Cancer Society and ending with a hot six mile hike in Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield. Temperatures were in the low 90’s this afternoon, and I had already done a fast four mile walk in the very early morning, so I got plenty of exercise today.

Four score and eight years after our forefathers founded a new nation, two great armies fought for about 10 days in this part of Virginia in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. It was General Lee vs. General Grant in May, 1864 for the second time that month, and this horrific and bloody battle resulted in 30,000 casualties for the two armies. Left behind as the armies moved ever south towards Richmond were ruined farms and communities

This hike had no such angst or horror for me on a hot August day. My toughest challenge was not anyone shooting at me, but running low on water since I foolishly only brought one liter with me. It always amazes me when I visit a battlefield like this one how such a peaceful and beautiful place could be a scene of such awful things at one time. Although most of the surrounding area has reverted to forest, at the time of the battle the majority of the countryside was farmland and pasture. So the Park Service maintains a lot of the battlefield in open state by mowing. The hike was about 1/3 in woods and 2/3 in open country.

Here are quite a few photos from my hike, a great way to end a busy weekend.

Map of the trail system and historic features.

The hike started along one of the roads that most people see the park by way of. I only encountered two other hikers in the six miles.

Monument to Upton's soldiers, who charged a Confederate position after slealthily approaching along a still existing woods road.

Attractive monument to South Carolina's soldiers at the battle.
At the "Bloody Angle", men fought at point blank range and hand to hand for 22 hours non-stop. The musket fire was so intense that it cut down a 22 inch thick oak, the stump of which is in the Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

Monument to New York or New Jersey at the "Bloody Angle".

Union forces led by Hancock charged the "Bloody Angle" from this now pacific terrain.

All that remains of the Landram House are two chimney foundations. The house did survive the battle with heavy damage, but the families profitable and productive farm was left in ruins by the fighting. When the family returned, they found 28 Union soldiers buried in their front yard. Another nearby farm had 1,492 Union soldiers buried in its fields, as well as an unknown number of Confederates.

A cannon silently guards the approach to the "East Angle".

The trail runs behind Confederate earthworks at the "East Angle".

The hike in open areas often had views of beautiful butterflies and bumblebees. As for larger wildlife, two deer ran 40 feet from me across the trail in one of the wooded areas.

This pastoral scene was near the Harrison House ruins, location of one of Robert E. Lee's camps.

Confederate trenchworks at Lee's Last Line, a nearly impregnable defense designed by military engineer General Martin Smith.

The original logs used to fortify trenches have long since rotted away, but this small section has been reconstructed so that people can see what it would have looked like.

This monument to beloved Union General "Uncle John" Sedgwick, who was killed by a sniper early in the battle. Note the tree line in the distance - this is where the bullet that killed him came from. His men begged him to take cover, but his last words were "They couldn't hit an elephant from that distance."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Was it Grisly?

I didn’t hike today, despite thoughts earlier this week of going to Rip Rap Hollow. It wasn’t because of 98 degree F. temperatures this afternoon. No, it was because I woke up at 4AM to devote Sunday morning to my fellow man – actually, my fellow woman. I was part of the all-male support crew at the all-female Pink Power Triathlon! It was a lot of fun!

But despite not hiking, I thought I would write another post about the bear essentials. Last time, I blogged about black bears. I got a couple of comments about grizzly bears, and thought I would write a short post, with a few photos, about this amazing species.

I’ve seen grizzlies three times, all in 2005, and none while hiking. The first time was the day before the Midnight Sun Marathon in June, and I took a little airplane into absolute wilderness like I have never seen before – maybe 100 or more miles from the nearest road. Then, the plane dropped us all off at a camp by a lake, and we went for a bear watching trip in a boat. We saw a young grizzly (Alaskan Brown Bear) catch a salmon, and then leave with his lunch. It was amazing. I also saw a black bear with two cubs, a river otter, and about a half dozen bald eagles. It was an incredible memory the day before another incredible memory, my first marathon!
A few months later, while staying at a camp in Glacier National Park, we watched mother grizzly with a pair of large cubs foraging high on the steep side of a mountain. It was steep and high enough that you could see mountain goats nearby, looking like little patches of snow. The only way we could see the grizzlies was because people on the porch of the restaurant had set up 30 power spotting scopes. It was amazing to watch these animals going about their lives 1,000 or so meters away.

In our hikes over the two weeks in Glacier, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone, we trekked through great bear country – quite nervously at times. This tree in the Tetons had the bark ripped off by a bear at about face height.
If they can do that to a tree, imagine what they could do to one’s face! We are 94 pound weakling by comparison. On about 10 hikes in all kinds of terrain, we never ran into a grizzly. A father and daughter had been very badly hurt by a grizzly in Glacier just days before we got there, which made the fear factor just a bit higher. I saw moose, elk, bison, mountain goats, deer, pronghorn, and black bears on the hikes, but no grizzlies. Part of me – a very small part – was disappointed, but most of me realized that blundering into a grizzly bear in the back country – and even seeing one from 100 yards or so away – is risky.

The last grizzly I saw in 2005, and in my life to date, was along Yellowstone Lake. We were in a car, and noticed a big group of cars pulled over. People in Yellowstone get so jaded by great bison and elk sighting that this had to be something more special. And indeed it was – a good size male grizzly sunning himself by the lake. He eventually went into the lake for a cooling dip, and then walked away down the beach, showing no interest in the many spectators gathered a short distance away.

For respectful, aware, and cautious hikers, I think the danger from grizzly bears is overrated. There is a risk, but more often than not, if you respect them and make sure that you don’t surprise them, then you are going to be OK. Of course, there is always that oddball case of purely being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and if you want to scare yourself to death, read “The Mark of the Grizzly”. Just don’t do like I did and read it the night before hiking in grizzly country!

Even in an encounter totally without incident, I guarantee that you will get an adrenaline rush if you see this magnificent animal.